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Story of the Creation of the STEM Academy: Part Three

By Dr. Richard Canfield, Superintendent of Schools

In the midst of celebrating the town’s 375 years, 2014 also heralded the opening of the Sandwich STEM Academy.  I felt it was appropriate to document the story of The STEM Academy, as it becomes part of a proud tradition of excellent schooling in Sandwich. 

Part Three: Considering what Teaching and Learning in The STEM Academy would look like….

As the planning continued, many people contributed.  The district’s long established literacy program – Literacy Collaborative – uses an inquiry approach, so many of the teachers that would become a part of the academy were already familiar with the model.  District administration and curriculum leaders – Principals Dr. Ellin Booras,  Dr. Ruth Joseph, Mrs. Patrice Hurley, and Mrs. Sheila Lima and K-8 Curriculum Coordinators Trish Hill, Clare Brady and Maureen Wiklund –  began to talk in terms of a trickle-down and splash-up effect for program planning across all grade levels.  STEM became a PreK-12 initiative.  High school department chairs began to consider changes to high school curricula that would build on the approach to teaching in the academy. At the same time, discussions were occurring about the vision and hopes for the Prek-6 program.

The district curriculum coordinators worked with the administration to investigate the best ways to put the principals of the STEM Academy into practice.  Their research and recommendations became central to the program design for the academy.  The introduction of Project Based Learning, with teacher training provided by the Buck Institute for Education, took place during the summers of 2013 and 2014, with follow up during the winter of 2013.  Enthusiastic middle school teachers who learned about Project Based Learning during the summer of 2103 made a commitment to try the PBL approach to teaching during the 2013-2014 school year at Wing, Forestdale and Oak Ridge. They launched amazing projects- some were interdisciplinary and some were subject-specific.

Research of engineering curriculum and programs led to Project Lead the Way, the preeminent national engineering training program with elementary, middle level and high school components.  The engineering teachers – Forestdale science teacher Peter Trimble and Oak Ridge math teacher Ginger Lavelle – were identified and completed weeklong training at Worcester Polytechnic Institute during the summer of 2013.

The district also considered the STEAM point-of-view, with an A inserted for the Arts.  As the district sought grants under the state and national STEM moniker, the administration and curriculum leaders were resolute in their belief that any high-quality STEM program must include the visual and performing arts for right and left brain development.  The PreK-12 STEM model is based on every child’s natural sense of wonder and curiosity.  We were developing a strong commitment to a teaching model that develops a child’s natural curiosity through activities that engage and promote flexibility of thinking that ultimately leads to the entrepreneurial and innovative approaches that fuels state and national economies.  The curriculum coordinators, through their research, recommended a change in the STEM acronym to stand for “Strategies That Engage Minds.”

Part One: How the idea for a Middle School/STEM Academy came to be….

Part Two: Starting the process of building a new and different school for Sandwich…

Part Four: Parents and Community Members become involved….

Part Five: Attending to the details….

Part Six: Teachers and Students contribute in a variety of ways…

Part Seven: Reflecting on the Sandwich STEM Academy and looking forward…